When meritocracy is undermined by superior whose advances have been rejected – how can employees, HR, and management overcome such problems?
I have worked in the financial services industry for over 30 years. Over 25 years ago I worked for a wonderful manager who was promoted to another part of the organization and the business was restructured and I then reported to a new manager who was “one of the boys”.
I had joined this company with a few other people who worked for me and besides bringing in other talent, I also brought in my customers. Shortly after my new manager arrived, he started to assign new accounts to other sales people and I was not one of them. He also was rumored to be pressuring the few women sales people or sales support to be socializing inapproapriately with him. The positive news was that he was based in another city and so I only saw him once a month and thought that this might prevent him from making any moves on me.
I was mistaken.
He came in to visit New York, and we discussed the allocation of new business and I asked how I might be able to receive a new account. He said that we should go to Bermuda to discuss. I asked him why Bermuda, and he said that it would be a convenient getaway for us and that we could brainstorm together there.
I responded, ” there is one problem with that”. He asked what it was, and I said, ” it requires a brain to storm with. ”
Silence. And then he asked what I thought he meant as he was only trying to help me. And I said help me by giving me an account not by going away with him. I also told him that if he ever came on to me again, I would escalate it to senior management.
In the meantime, I was in the office every morning at 6:30 am , before any one else in the office , working to discover ideas in the market that was not from regurgitated newspaper stories. His managers would come by my desk and ask about the market. I had earned my own credibility and found my own clients. Although it would have been great to have been given a few new accounts as they arose like my peers did , I was satisfied doing it without his help.
He then started to reassign my accounts, which meant taking away my livelihood and that of the people working for me.
How did you respond?
I had no choice but to go to my clients and to my management.
Now, one might ask, why did I not go when he first came on to me? I was young and naive and thought that meritocracy would prevail.
The management was surprised but also, they were aware of who I was as they spoke to me every day. They saw my work and they saw my results. They decided to open an investigation.
When everyone else that complained in private was interviewed, they all denied any problems. I was called in and asked why no one else would speak up. I had no idea why.
Then I remembered that because of the policy of taped lines, we had recorded all conversations and sadly, although this was NOT why the lines were taped, we found many inappropriate conversations and behavior recorded on those lines. This was pre-internet but the equivalence of “finding the incriminating text” was found, and he was dismissed.
What were your takeaways in hindsight?
It is important to know that I was prepared to leave and start again if need be. The clients that I had paid me for my thinking , for my work ethic, and for my ability to help them and I was lucky to have a team of people loyal to me that would go where I went. Ultimately , I also won the respect of a wider group of managers without trying just by being available when they had questions.